Iron midfielder Sean McAllister was relieved to see his side break their run of four games without a win with a 2-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle at Home Park on Saturday.In each of their last four games United had led only to be pegged back by their opponents, but that theme changed in Devon as they first maintained a lead before securing three points late on.
Having waited until the 78th minute to take the lead through Dave Syers after first surviving a scare when Argyle struck the woodwork, Iron fans would have been forgiven for watching the final few minutes on the edge of their seats.
However, Russ Wilcox’s side displayed the mental strength to hold off the Pilgrims going into injury time before sealing the win with practically the last kick of the game courtesy of substitute Hakeeb Adelakun.
That show of character impressed McAllister, who told The Iron Player: “Obviously it’s been a frustrating few weeks with the draws from winning positions, but we know we’ve got quality in the side.
“It was a bigger pitch here, and you saw the quality we have in the team. We moved the ball quite well but had to be patient at times as they defended well.
“They got a lot of men behind the ball, and we knew that first goal was going to be important. Thankfully it went our way, and it was good to get the three points.”
The popular midfielder also urged fans to stick with the team when things aren’t necessarily going to plan, and believes a club record run of 21 matches without defeat has led to raised expectations in the stands.
Those expectations are shared by McAllister and his colleagues, and he added: “The draws have been frustrating, but that’s mainly because we’ve been leading so it’s almost like a defeat.
“If we were coming from behind then they [the fans] would probably all be elated with a point. From a players perspective it’s better to be getting close to the win, and thankfully today we’ve held out and sealed it right at the death.”
United were always set for a tough task against Argyle, coming up against a side who had romped to an emphatic 5-0 victory over Morecambe in their most recent home appearance.
The kind of performances produced by the Pilgrims in recent weeks made the Iron’s success all the sweeter, and McAllister said: “They have been in great form, and have been one of the best sides in the league in the last eight games or so.
“We know they are one of those teams that could sneak in the play-offs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. It’s a big win for us as if they had beaten us they would have only been five points away with a game in hand.”
One factor that allowed the Iron to express themselves fully was the high standard of the Home Park pitch, and McAllister admitted: “It was a different game than what we have been used to recently.
“The heat played a part as well; I think it sapped a bit of energy out of the game. It was a bigger pitch, and that suits us because it gives us room to work with.
“We had to be more intelligent in using that room, and it suited us. It’s nice to have one of those games for a change. If you look at the Newport game it was very scrappy with a high tempo, but this was different and it was great to get some time on the ball.”
The Iron also benefited from an element of good fortune – with Argyle twice seeing efforts come off the woodwork.
That represented a marked difference from Tuesday night’s encounter with Southend United when lady luck deserted United, and McAllister added: “It’s fine margins. You look at our second goal – it hits the post, hits the goalkeeper, then goes in.
“The luck probably went our way with them hitting the post, but we restricted them to very few chances and even less possession so I think we were the better side.”
Bolton-born McAllister had missed that clash with Southend through injury, but returned to the heart of midfield against the Pilgrims to put in a characteristically efficient performance.
Having become one of the key elements in United’s promotion push over the last few months, the 26-year-old was glad to return to the fold, and explained: “It was frustrating in midweek. I came out of the Saturday game with a bit of a tight calf and tried to get myself back in for Tuesday.
“I did a fitness test and was moving okay, but there was still a bit of pain. The thought process behind it was to sit out Tuesday and get fully fit.
“I knew I had to perform because Spadge [Matt Sparrow] did really well when he came in midweek. He scored a goal and I know he’s disappointed at not being in the side so I had to be on my game.
“There’s that pressure there; Haks [Hakeeb Adelakun] has come on today and got his goal, and Paul [Hayes] has come on and made a difference by playing his part as we scored two. Everybody knows they have to be on their game.”
The result moves the Iron four points clear of the likes of Fleetwood and Burton – who each sit just outside the automatic promotion places – with just nine games of the regular campaign remaining as they look to complete a return to League One at the first time of asking.
The first of those nine games sees Burton themselves travel to Glanford Park next weekend, with Wilcox’s men knowing a win would represent a huge step towards promotion.
Despite that, United are keeping their feet firmly on the ground, and McAllister added: “It’s the same every game. We will take each game as it comes.
“We have Burton next, and there’s that pressure on them now to get a result. If we can beat them it looks even healthier for us, so we will focus on that one.
“We’ll definitely be going out to win the game. You can be sure of that.”
See much more from Russ Wilcox, Sean McAllister, Paul Hayes and Dave Syers on The Iron Player.